By Laura Krantz, VTDigger.org
The state this year abruptly shut down a program that helps low-income Vermonters spay and neuter their pets, documents show, leaving pet owners without an affordable way to have their animals fixed and inundating local shelters with calls for help.
The Department for Children and Families says the Vermont Spay and Neuter Incentive Program, or VSNIP, ran out of money because more people than ever want vouchers. The state took over the program a year ago after it had been run by two third-party contractors.
But DCF officials also admit they made mistakes administering the program, and documents show that under the prior administrator, the program boosted the amount it pays vets who perform the surgeries.
VSNIP is funded through a $3 service charge on dog license fees collected by municipalities across the state. The program only has funds to issue as many vouchers as those collections make available.
Vermonters who earn wages at 185 percent of the poverty level or less, $44,000 for a family of four, and acquired their pet for $75 or less are eligible. If a person qualifies, he or she pays $25 for the spay or neuter procedure, which at full price can cost more than $200.
The Legislature created the program in 2004, and it has been in operation since 2006. The annual budget is approximately $250,000 a year, but fluctuates depending on the number of license fees received.
Starting fiscal year 2013, however, the fund’s year-end balance plummeted from $154,000 to $65,000 and then plunged to negative $10,000 in fiscal year 2014. And in February the state shut down the program to give the fund time to replenish. It started issuing vouchers on a limited basis again in September.
There are now more than 600 people on the waiting list, representing $142,000 in requests, according to data from DCF.